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Judge Orders Settlement Talks In Comair Case

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Families who haven't settled lawsuits over a Kentucky plane crash that killed 49 people were ordered Thursday to meet with ComAir officials in a last-ditch effort to avoid trial.
Judge Karl Forester scheduled most of the settlement conferences
for the next two weeks and said family members representing the
estate of each victim and top airline decision-makers should attend.
"We're not doing this just as an exercise," Forester said during a pretrial hearing. "We're doing it to try to get the cases settled."
David Royse, an attorney who serves as a liaison with other lawyers representing families suing the airline over the 2006 crash, said he doesn't know whether a trial can be avoided altogether.
"Anything's possible, I guess," Royse said.
With the civil trial set to begin Aug. 4, Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said the airline has now settled 29 claims, leaving 18 pending. Nearly half of the settlements have come since June, Marx said.
"We absolutely support moving forward in the settlement process, and Comair has been diligent in its efforts to reach fair agreements with the passenger families since the accident," Marx said.
During the pretrial hearing, attorneys for both sides clashed over several procedural issues that will govern the trial.
The one that could have the largest impact is whether any punitive damage verdict in the first three cases will be binding on all the others. Forester said he feared the case could go on for two years if there isn't agreement on that issue.
Comair has acknowledged its pilots were responsible for the crash because they steered the plane in the predawn darkness onto a Blue Grass Airport runway that was too short for a commercial jet. The jet hit a fence and trees before crashing, killing everybody on board except the first officer.
But the airline has said other parties, including the U.S. government, which operates the control tower, should share in the blame and financial settlements.
On Thursday, the government's attorneys told the judge they were
nearing an agreement with Comair over liability. No details were
released.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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